Interviewing Part 1: The Interviewee

Full disclosure: I can sometimes be a bit of a glutton for punishment.

This trait has allowed me to endure and sometimes even enjoy being interviewed for a job… weird, I know. I think it’s because my nature—specifically, to meet new people and learn about new problems that need solving—continues to entice me. But interviews aren’t for everyone, and a few close friends of mine absolutely dread it.

I used to work with someone who was brilliant and easy to work with, but extremely shy. He confessed once that he hoped the game we were working on did well, because he was (his words) “the worst” at doing interviews. He could ace any programming test, he said, but not so much with the verbal communication. He was great on email, instant message, and any other written communication, but hated his voice and dreaded having to converse with people he didn’t know well. He told me that he’d failed so many interviews in the past, and would only get jobs if past colleagues vouched for him. Many people, particularly in tech-centric industries, share this same issue: Great at what they do once they get the job, but botched interviews often spell a difficult time actually getting there.

There’s plenty of stuff that people can do to prep for interviews, but sometimes curveballs can be tough to predict. It also doesn’t help that every company has its own version of the interview process: Most places I’ve interviewed at in the games industry do an “all day” involving interviews with at least seven people. At Flagship I was interviewed by the owners, and then did a roundtable with literally everyone else in the company, which was pretty daunting. Amazon has their infamous “interview loop” into which they insert a key “bar raiser”—a person you’ll probably never work with, and who probably doesn’t understand your experience, but will judge your answers through the highest standards of the Amazon Leadership Principles. The recruiters also never tell you WHO that person is in your loop.

Definitely the craziest interview I’ve ever had was for a job at Take Two Interactive. They were in the early days of forming Rockstar Games, and needed to hire a PR person. I flew out to NYC and arrived at their offices, where I met with Sam Houser and Terry Donovan, and spoke briefly about my job experiences. Not long into the interview, Terry abruptly interrupted and asked, “Do you have any street clothes with you?” (I was wearing a suit.) I said yes, and they promptly asked me to change into them. Sam and Terry then took me, along with their small crew, to the Bowery Bar just down the street. They told me, “This is your real interview: You need to get five phone numbers from guys at this bar.” Yep—that was my interview task, along with playing soccer down Water Street near their condo until 4 a.m., and then heading out back to SF for a 7 a.m. flight. I got the job, but there were clearly a ton of red flags staring me in the face that I ignored because I so badly wanted the gig—to launch Rockstar Games. I was also young, and didn’t know how abnormal this was.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, Finding Alignment, make sure during your interview that the team, manager, and the actual job align with what you want. Anytime you feel like something isn’t quite right, it’s probably because it’s not. Listen to your gut. I know that in some cases, people will overlook these red flags because they need the money (or, in countries like America, they need the health care). But pay attention to these kinds of red flags:

  • They won’t show you the game or the tech they’re working on
  • You’re interviewing with a majority of people that won’t actually be working with you
  • They won’t let you meet the team you’ll be managing
  • They won’t let you talk to your manager’s boss
  • They aren’t really listening to what you say
  • They say things like, “We don’t care about your experience”
  • They don’t believe what you tell them you’ve experienced in past jobs or interactions
  • They don’t have specific policies or stances on equal opportunities regarding gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity
  • They don’t have decent family leave policies
  • They don’t have good answers on how they actively help grow their employee’s careers within the company
  • They make you pick up dudes at a bar as part of your interview 😖

All of the above have happened to me at one point or another during interviews, as well as those of many colleagues and friends of mine. The older and more experienced I became, the more intolerant I was for bullshit interviews. I’ve politely excused myself from interviews midway through, or called the recruiter at the end of the day to decline the position and give feedback on the interviews (something I think is really important, whether or not they decide to actually internalize that information and use it to improve). My general thinking is: “If this doesn’t seem like a good fit right off the bat, let’s not waste my time or yours.”

Regardless if you’re an ace interviewer or extremely shy, it helps to read everything you need to know about the company and people you’re about to meet, and the products they make. But most importantly, remember that your happiness is paramount, and the interview needs to be benefitting you as well as the company. If you feel like it’s a one-sided interview, or that you’re being misled into a position that isn’t the right fit—well, chances are it’s probably not the right fit for you. Find a place where you believe your ideas are appreciated during the interview process, and feel a mutual bond with the people you’re spending even that short amount of time with.